In their quest to win a fourth consecutive majority, Manitoba's New Democrats are attempting to draft an unlikely ally: former Progressive Conservative premier Gary Filmon.
The early days of the 2011 provincial campaign have found the NDP re-election team trying to cement a public connection between the former Tory premier and current Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen, who served the Filmon administration as a researcher and senior adviser.
On Wednesday, this effort took on a more aggressive tone as the NDP accused McFadyen of actively trying to distance himself from Filmon.
In a missive titled "McFadyen's evolving resume," the NDP campaign compared a 2004 legal-firm biography that characterized McFadyen's position in the Filmon administration as a "central strategic role" to a 2011 interview where McFadyen described that position as "not a decision-making role."
In the statement, the NDP claimed "McFadyen is now trying to play down his role in the decisions to cut and privatize during the Filmon years." The NDP re-election team is banking that the public maintains a negative impression of the Filmon government, which spanned an 11-year period from 1988 to 1999.
"He was kicked out of office. It's not like he just walked away. He was voted out. The legacy is not all rosy," said NDP campaign quick-response director Maeghan Dewar, referring to the NDP's defeat of the Filmon-led Tories in 1999.
The biggest black mark against the Filmon administration was the 1995 vote-splitting scandal, which did not implicate the former premier but will remain forever as an asterisk on his political career. There was also public anger about the privatization of MTS, but Filmon -- generally a political moderate -- failed to serve as a lightning rod for public anger in the manner of former prime minister Brian Mulroney and other truly divisive Canadian political figures.
Nonetheless, the NDP is convinced Manitobans do not regard Filmon fondly.
"In my experience, a lot of people remember health care as being in crisis in the 1990s. There were a lot of problems to fix," said Dewar, insisting the NDP has improved health care during 12 years in power. "Obviously, if we're bringing up what happened in the 1990s, it is something we (identified) in our own research. We don't just say, 'Manitobans think this.' "
The Progressive Conservative campaign believes otherwise. Tory campaign manager Marni Larkin said she does not believe Manitobans have negative recollections of Filmon, if they remember him at all.
"They probably don't," said Larkin, who also managed the 2011 federal Tory campaign in Manitoba and Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz's 2010 re-election campaign. "They're just trying to make all Conservatives seem to be nefarious.
"I'm wondering what day Greg Selinger is going to call a seance so he can bring back Sterling Lyon and Duff Roblin so they can account for their governments. It's just ludicrous."
Former Tory premiers Lyon and Roblin died in 2010. Filmon, alive and well, seemed almost bemused about being drafted back into the political fray by the NDP.
"I find it amazing they've been in power for 12 years and they still don't have a record of their own to run on," said Filmon, adding he believes he has a good relationship with Manitobans. "I find it desperate, actually."
Nonetheless, the Progressive Conservative campaign did not completely deflect the NDP allegation that McFadyen is playing down his association with Filmon.
"McFadyen was never elected in the '90s," said Larkin, repeating earlier campaign messaging that Manitoba Progressive Conservatives have learned from the past.